Quintessential Mo-Ments No. 35: Becoming The Man, The Myth, and finally The Legend

09/23/2013 9:04 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Mariano Rivera has never sought to be the center of attention, but on Sept. 19, 2011, he had no choice.(AP)
Mariano Rivera recorded career save No. 599 on Sept. 11, 2011, meaning that his next three would all be milestones. No one could see the future and say officially just how “close” he was to those monuments, but as the world soon found out, he needed only eight days to go from the precipice to the peak.

Two days after 599, Mo took the hill against Seattle at Safeco Field; he was 11 saves into a conversion streak that would reach 15 by season’s end, but even if he blew 11 in a row, the next one would put him just a notch below Trevor Hoffman.

We don’t have to say what happened next, but in notching career save No. 600, Rivera wasn’t actually responsible in any way for the final out. He struck out the two batters he retired, but the final out belonged to catcher Russell Martin, who snagged a cutter and fired a bullet that cut down Ichiro trying to steal second base. Not quite the pomp and circumstance one would expect, but in a game that ended early in the morning Bronx time, the record book records it as No. 600 nonetheless.

As for No. 601, that would fortunately be a little more accessible time-wise to Yankees fans, as it came at Toronto’s Rogers Centre four days later – and if it’s any consolation to Hoffman, at least he can say he got to 601 just a bit sooner than Mo.

Hoffman’s 601st and final save came in the 1,035th and final game of his MLB career, meaning that when Mo took the hill in Toronto for his 1,038th career appearance, he was “three off the pace.”

And that, kids, is why you never mistake pace for finality.

The result of that 1,038th appearance was 15 pitches, three straight outs, and a fly ball off the bat of Eric Thames that gave Rivera partial claim to the throne of the closer’s kingdom. Fittingly, it was also his 42nd save of 2011, but with the Yankees having one more game in Canada to go before a long homestand, it also gave the baseball world a question: even in a pennant race, would Joe Girardi avoid Rivera the next day just to give him a chance to cement his legacy on the hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium?

The Jays answered that question for Joe by winning the series final 3-0 on Sept. 18, but that set the stage for a homestand where you knew history would happen, and the first to get the opportunity were the lucky thousands who were robbed of Yankees baseball months earlier.

See, the Yankees and Twins were rained out on April 6 of that year, with the game eventually re-schedulded for Sept. 19 – meaning that for ticketholders, those April showers may have brought a chance to witness late-summer history.

And indeed, it happened, as after more than five months’ wait for their use, 40,045 ticket stubs were scanned on a cool, cloudy Monday afternoon in the Bronx and probably ended up framed and mounted in homes across the Tri-State area.

With the Yankees leading 6-4 in the ninth, in came Rivera looking to dethrone Hoffman for good as the all-time saves king…and the next 10 minutes in Yankee Stadium were loud enough to let even the hardest of hearing know something epic was afoot.

A 1-2-3 inning ended with a called strike three on Chris Parmelee, and with record in hand, YES Network analyst John Flaherty’s words best summed up the end of the chase: “The man who has always been about the team first, and individual statistics second, can finally enjoy this bit of attention.”

It was the end of a long and storied road, but of course, Rivera had quite a bit of epilogue left in him; his next save on Sept. 21 added another milestone, as it clinched the AL East title for the Yankees, and he'd go on to record another 50-plus notches in his saves belt over the next 24 months before finally calling it a career.

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